Our amazing trip to the UK is shaping up. One area that we are considering spending a day or two is Dartmoor National Park. But I am finding myself a bit puzzled as I try to determine where the best hikes might be, or the best drives through the park. A national park in the UK is a very different thing, I think, than the parks to which I'm accustomed (certainly smaller!). Even Dartmoor's national park authority website seems to emphasize the villages and centers and historical sites (in this respect, I think the parks are similar to our eastern parks). But what I'm interested in are the outdoor vistas. Can anyone recommend locations for outstanding walks in the park? Or direct me to a website or map that emphasizes such? I especially want to see the dramatic tors and moors that have inspired so much literature about the area. (I'm an avid photographer.) Thank you! (Also, how does Dartmoor compare with Exmoor in beauty and ease of visit?)
You don't say where your UK base starting place will be for Dartmoor. Exmoor has a coastline with very steep plunges to the sea.
National Parks in Britain are generally the more scenically attractive areas - and that includes farmlands & villages. As such, they have very strict planning policies. A farmer, for example, might not be allowed to build a shiny metal barn that would spoil a view or someone build a brick house in a village of thatch & cob. You do not pay a fee to enter British National Parks.
How far can you, or do you want to, walk in a day?
I have no doubt that the national parks in England will be beautiful! That's why I want to go to one--my family and I are national park enthusiasts, so adding one of the beautiful UK parks to our "visited" list will be wonderful.
If we choose Dartmoor, we would be in Buckfastleigh. I was thinking of walks in the 3-5 mile range or less (even thought we are capable of more), so that we are able to see several sites in a day.
Exmoor is appealing to me as a way of showing my sons how beautifully the English have cultivated their land over centuries.
What I am seeking is a great outdoor experience that is quintessentially British (or Welsh, or well...something we wouldn't experience at home). Our other major ports of call will be London and Cardiff, if that helps.
Heather, we visited Dartmoor in 2012 and enjoyed hiking in the area near Chagford. There's a little stone circle on a moor just outside of town (Scorhill Stone Circle) that was magical with a short hike to visit, and is mentioned briefly in a Rick Steves' guide book to England. The maze of country lanes around this area is worth just spending an afternoon getting lost in. It was the highlight of our trip. Happy travels.
Use this for walking ideas: http://www.dartmoor.co.uk/active-dartmoor/dartmoor-walking.
Use this for circles and other megaliths: http://www.megalithic.co.uk/asb_mapsquare.php?sq=SX.
Devon probably has the largest circle concentration south of Aberdeenshire.
You're not going to get much out of trying to drive the lanes. The B3212 down the middle has as good a batch of views as anything.
Walks in the Exmoor NP around Lynton are really good.
Save walking time for Wales or you're nuts.
Thank you, Steve and Ed, for your comments. Very helpful! Ed, your comment about walking in Wales made me laugh. I will admit that I am also thinking about Pembrokeshire--would that be a better choice? If so, where should I focus my energies there? We also like fishing villages and sea kayaking. My husband really wants to see some fine castles, ruined or not--just nothing too kitschy.
Let me describe our plans a little further. We have an entire week in London...and we will need it. We will then have another week left of our vacation and there is only one must in that week--we have to go to Cardiff (we are Doctor Who fans--especially my boys). We also prefer to choose a couple of charming, interesting or beautiful places to center ourselves for a few days at a time...we are not going to try to speed through all of the UK in one week. We want some of that time to be focused on the landscape and the "real" culture of a place. Does that help? What would you all suggest?
For both moors it might be worth looking into the myths and legends in the of them, it is not for nothing Hound of the Baskervilles is set on Dartmoor. If you've seen the BBC Sherlock episode Hounds of Baskerville, virtually all the exterior shots excepting London, the base and the pub, are on Dartmoor as the producer put it only Dartmoor looks like Dartmoor.
Places on Dartmoor worth a look Wistman's Wood (so named for the Wild Hunt, Wisthounds are Devon dialect for Hell Hounds), Grimspound Bronze Age settlement, Jay's grave (where fresh flowers are laid daily by whom no one knows).
Castles wise on the Moor is Castle Drogo, a 20th Century castle designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens now in the hands of the National Trust, and off it is Okehampton Castle (English Heritage) where on the still nights of the year a carriage is seen to leave taking a former countess of Devon to her other castle at Tavistock accompanied by the aforementioned Wisthounds. By Exmoor is Dunster Castle, also National Trust.
The zoo that inspired 'We Bought a Zoo' is also on Dartmoor.
I note you are looking at Buckfast as a place to see and or visit. It is a pretty village but there is a very good reason it is nicknamed by locals as 'Fast Buck'.
In terms of of access Dartmoor is probably easier to get to with the A38 on one edge, the A30 on another (both fast dual carriageways) linking up to the motorway network at the county town of Exeter. In terms of beauty, it depends what you think is beautiful. Dartmoor is bleaker that Exmoor but both are beautiful places.
Right, now we have more info about your intentions - though mode(s) of transport would be useful.
You might like to read my response to an earlier post about Cardiff - Dr.Who.https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/day-trip-to-cardiff-bay
I do not think that Dartmoor is the best of the National Parks. Why go from Cardiff to the Dartmoor area when you have the Brecon Beacons National Park just a 40 minute drive N of the city? In my opinion, the Brecon Beacons has far better scenery than Dartmoor. You could drive up the A470 from Cardiff and climb to the summits of the Beacons quite easily. (The minor road running between Pontsticill & Talybont-on-Usk is really beautiful - see if you can find it on Google Earth). Around Poneddfechan / Ystradfellte areas are several gorges full of waterfalls - which make lovely walks of varying degrees of difficulty. http://www.breconbeacons.org
You may like to consider (if renting a car) , staying somewhere like the Brecon area and driving down to Cardiff. You could also reach the beautiful Gower Peninsula in just over 1 hour (by car) from Cardiff or the Brecon. If so, head for Rhosilli at the western end first = lovely walks & views. http://www.enjoygower.com/index.cfm
About a 30 minute drive SW from Cardiff - are beaches & cliff walks - between Llantwit Major & Southerndown. Although nice enough, this section of coast is not as attractive as the Gower peninsula.
The lower Wye Valley - about a 40 minute drive E of Cardiff / Brecon, is also worth seeing. (It is just north of the M48 Severn Bridge).
Also see my response here to a query in the Wales forum about where to set up base camp :>https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/wales/wales-home-base
I like both moors and I like Devon and Cornwall a lot, but don't get me wound up about Wales.
Okay, go ahead and ask me if I've walked the whole 1055 miles of the perimeter (excluding Anglesey) and most of the middle.
Go ahead and ask me where the highest concentration of excellent real castles in the world is - - or which Welsh castle is in a dead heat for the three best in any part of the world.
I don't care much for Cardiff except for the harbor and the national museum, anywhere else, dump me for a month and I'm as happy as a pig. Use the Megalithic Portal link and see what happens when you set it on Welsh squares.
Given a choice, I'd plop myself in Wales in a heartbeat - - but, in fairness, you might want to look at both areas.
Oddly, I kayak so much at home that I can't even remember spotting sea kayaks anywhere.
Here's my pick of the best mainland castles starting at the Severn and working the coast in kind of a 'C': Chepstow, Caerphilly, Kidwelly, Pembroke, Harlech, Caernarvon, and Conwy. None are frilly, all are true defensive structures, Harlech (ties with one in Spain and another in Syria) is the best, Chepstow is a good starter since it's small enough to get an understanding of how a castle is supposed to work.
The Pembrokshire Coast Path, especially around where the Teifi dumps into Cardigan Bay, has really good scenery for hiking - - I don't care for the Cardiganshire side of the estuary as much. So does the Wye Valley. If you want non-coastal hiking, you can't beat the Brecon Beacons.
Nut's missed the last bit of the original post. I'd pick Exmoor over Dartmoor just for the scenery.
Wow, I am so grateful for these robust answers! A couple of quick responses as I remember them:
MC, Dartmoor is on my radar because of Sherlock (both the books and the series). I happen to think bleak can be incredibly beautiful, as long as it is green and windswept! I have made careful note of the places you listed to visit. Buckfast was on our list because of a possible accommodation, but we've let that go now because our dates changed (we just snagged a perfect place to stay in London, but that shifted our days by one).
fab1, thanks--I will check out your previous threads. The reason I was not considering Brecon is, to be very frank, because I live in the Pacific Northwest, in small town in the mountains with lots of waterfalls, gorges, and peaks that Wales can only dream of. I just wasn't sure it would different enough to have the impact I'm seeking. I don't know when I'll have another chance to take my boys to the UK and I want it to be memorable. Do you consider Gower more beautiful than Pembrokeshire?
Ed, thank you for your detailed information on the castles and on Pembrokeshire. I am happy to see that my initial list of castles includes a few on your list! Where would you set up base in Pembrokeshire? Give me charm and something very Welsh, if possible.
Any more ideas? From anyone? I'm eating them up!! Thanks!
Probably Haverfordwest since it's a little more tidy than either Pembroke or Pembroke Dock and has more places to walk and eat at the end of the day.
However, I'll defer to Fab. He's the one with charm, I'm the one with sheep dung on his boots.
Thanks, Ed! I'll wait for fab to post, then, assuming I didn't offend him! (I should say, the photographs I've been perusing do show that the Brecon Beacons are truly beautiful!)
Is there a fishing/coastal village which has strong appeal? (I looked at Tenby--lovely, of course--but one of the descriptions said that it is highly Anglicized, so I wasn't sure if that was what I was after...)
fab, I just finished reading your Cardiff/Doctor Who thread. Very helpful. I already had St. Fagan's on our list. When we were in Scandinavia years ago, we fell in love with the open-air museums.
Southern Pembrokeshire has the historic nickname 'Little England Beyond Wales' as it was historically planted by the government of the day with Flemish and English settlers, this was centuries ago though. More Welsh will be north of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion.
I also second visiting St Fagans.
Back to Dartmoor, Dartmoor is largely green. Devon's county colours are green, white and black, but one thing you notice going on to the Moor is the quality of the green changes.
While you're waiting for Fab,
here's the Welsh castle encyclopedia: http://www.castlewales.com/
Tenby is a stunning coastal town & well worth a visit. 'Anglicised' means it is mainly English speaking - as opposed to Welsh speaking.
(All Welsh speakers also speak English). Tenby is about 1 hour 30 minutes driving time from Cardiff or Brecon.
Lovely beaches are found W of Tenby. Go to Bosherston - park by church and walk down to the coast (by lily pools) & then turn E & to Barafundle Bay. Also see St.Govans Chapel & The Green Bridge of Wales (sea arch) in the same area. (The latter might be off limits = army range - but always open on weekends & August).
Brecon Beacons would be different to Pacific NW as the lower land will have a patchwork of fields with sheep & cows & some arable.
Gower peninsula has stunning coastal scenery as does Pembrokeshire. It can get crowded as it is within easy tripping distance of Swansea & Cardiff - so avoid weekends in summer! Pembrokeshire covers a much bigger area. The county is divided by Milford Haven = oil port. Explore both coasts on Google Earth to get a better idea.
If visiting Exmoor, try & go to Dunster & Selworthy & Lynmouth.
If visiting Dartmoor, these places to the south are also worth seeing :> Totnes, Salcombe & Dartmouth. http://www.southhams.com
Don't believe all that you see about Sherlock Holmes. I think much of the filming was done in south Wales rather than on Dartmoor.
(The BBC have major studios in Cardiff). In fact, you could go to one 'Dartmoor' Inn featured in the series by visiting 'The Bush Inn' at St.Hilary = 10 miles W of Cardiff near Cowbridge. http://www.sherlockology.com/locations/the-cross-keys-pub
Finally, for Dr.Who fans only :>http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/doctor-who-series-8-filming-6988490
Fab, regarding Sherlock, according to the commentary (seen it so often my eyes bleed, live with a fan) the army base, the pub/village are all in Wales, the indoors sets in Wales, but the bits out on the moor itself, with the crags and tors, is Dartmoor. Paraphrasing Steven Moffat when they searched for locations the only place that looked like Dartmoor they could find, was Dartmoor.
Again, thank you all! And amazing amount of information! We are going to have an amazing time regardless of our choice.
This is not exactly on point with any of the questions asked, but we just spent a couple of days in Bovey Tracey at the Cromwell Arms. It was a nice little place: the rooms are above, or attached to, the pub and restaurant. The owners are very nice, and took really good care of us.
We took a tour from a guide mentioned in Rick Steves's book, Tom Soby. Tomstors@hotmail.com. We spent about 5 hours with him. He is very, very knowledgeable about the area, the history, the archeological sites, etc. And, he's a very nice guy. He worked with us to determine exactly what we were interested in, and tailored the outing to our desires. I highly recommend him if you are interested in a guided tour of the area. Plus, it was nice having him drive: the area is full of small towns and we found it very hard to navigate. Additionally, there are many places where the street gets very narrow, barely wide enough to get a single vehicle through, and you end up having to back up to let other cars pass. It can be a little harrowing, especially if you are driving on the left side of the road for the first time ever.
If you like Indian food, there is a restaurant in Bovey Tracey that is fabulous: The Spice Bazaar. It is nondescript and we almost did not eat there. We agreed that if we had an extra night we would have eaten there again.
We are going to Britain in Sept. Staying at Gower Holiday Village (in Wales) through Airbnb...Haven't stayed there yet, but it looks and sounds great and near lots of walking areas around the Gower coast and a pool the kids would love.
In Devon we are staying in a cottage in Stoke Gabriel. Another area that has lots to see and do with walks nearby. We booked it through Trip Advisor.
They might work for you. If you have further questions for me, you'll have to message me privately because I probably won't check here again.
Have a good trip.